Life

Goodbye To The Mexican Pizza — A Fan Favorite That Had To Die

I love Taco Bell’s Mexican Pizza. For 20 years, this cult-classic menu item has been part of my standard order (add nacho cheese, of course). Living in Southern California — where great Mexican food abounds — I buy them more often than I could possibly justify. I even made the dish in a recent cooking competition on Twitch.

So when the company announced that the Mexican Pizza would be discontinued last week, I planned on writing a big, dorky ode to this fan-favorite. A love letter to those flaky fried tortillas. An affectionate eulogy to the silky red sauce. I was all set to gush about how the dish was basically a nacho without any of the nacho’s ingredient distribution problems — offering equal amounts of beans, beef, cheese, sauce, and crunch in every bite.

Seriously, I was hyped. It would be an honorific so pure that fellow Mexican Pizza aficionado Bert Kreischer was going to get it tattooed on his chest. Together, we’d bring the Mexican Pizza back.

Then I lost the script. I looked at Taco Bell’s reasons for taking the Mexican Pizza off their menu in the first place, clicking on their official statement, which read:

One silver lining of saying goodbye to the Mexican Pizza that might help you rest easy is that removing it from our menus helps us work towards our commitment to leave a lighter footprint on our planet. Currently, Mexican Pizza packaging accounts for over 7 million pounds of paperboard material per year in the U.S.

And with that, I got it. Taco Bell didn’t have to take the Mexican Pizza off their menu. It was an active choice, at least partly for the sake of the environment. They did something rare in the world of mass-produced foods: make a decision not simply driven by market popularity or profit.

In short, they pursued a strategy that seems wrong but was actually right. Even if that bums you out, you have to admit it’s pretty cool.

In a world where what we eat is getting increasingly intellectualized — sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse — the Mexican Pizza was a clever dish that actually tasted good. A mashup in name and presentation that brought people four little slivers of joy. As the difference between food appropriation and appreciation grows ever more blurred, it was also an unrepentant blend of classic food types. Basically a double layer tostada topped with mild, red Enchilada sauce, melted cheese, and a few tomatoes.

As prone as I am to romanticizing this dish, Taco Bell’s website takes it comically far:

Listen, we love a well-placed karate chop as much as the next guy, but we can all agree that peace is the best, right? Especially since the Mexican Pizza was created with some peace.

The most obvious reason, of course, is because no one gets hurt. But a close second, and often-overlooked reason for why peace and harmony rule is because when different cultures get along, they start swapping recipes. It’s like tearing open a brand new pack of baseball cards only to find out that you have some duplicates and your neighbor has a card you want and you have one he wants. So you just trade straight up and basically become pals after that single encounter. But one clear example of cultural companionship at work is the Mexican Pizza.

That is, I shit you not, just the first third of Taco Bell’s ramblings on the Mexican Pizza. Clearly they saw it as important to their menu at some point. But all that world peace talk wasn’t enough to justify the cancellation of the dish in an effort to meet the company’s stated packaging goals. And considering the scale at which Taco Bell makes food, the quest for peace of which they wax poetically is better off with them killing the Mexican Pizza and thereby decreasing waste and packaging production worldwide.

Not to stretch the fire sauce here, but I see this as an example of what life in 2020 demands of us. Doing things that will potentially piss people off in the name of progress (generally speaking, a segment of people being pissed off is certainly one of the signifiers of positive change being made). Letting our hard-earned wisdom guide us rather than the path of least resistance.

God, I miss the days when we didn’t have to overthink fast food!

Well, they’re gone. The thing about any sort of romanticization of the past is that it puts you on a slippery slope where “make America great again” is actually code for “allow me to be racist, sexist, ableist, etc. without you complaining about it.” Or when country songs about a simpler time also imply “before I was forced to recognize the complexities of the world, even though they definitely still existed.”

The fact is that in 2020 — thanks to excellent food and ecology-based journalism and the numbers supplied by Taco Bell itself — we can see pretty easily that the Mexican Pizza had to go. Our environmental consciousness created its downfall. Which means we won’t get to enjoy it anymore. But it’s still better to be conscious.

Right?

As much as I love the Mexican Pizza, I won’t cry for this perfect example of Taco Bell at its most authentically inauthentic. I won’t mourn this cultural mashup that was tastier than it had any right to be. I won’t lament the loss of the dish’s perfect topping ratios or its even distribution of meat, beans, sauce, and cheese. Instead, I’m choosing to see it as a sign of the times. I’m glad that waste management actually matters to a company whose core fanbase of people buying 12 tacos at a time at midnight may not make its purchasing decisions based on ecological factors.

Maybe one day the Mexican Pizza will come back in a compostable box. Until then, I’m going to wolf down a few more and walk away. Taco Bell thinks that our nostalgia for a mass-produced menu item isn’t worth the environmental costs and I’d like to hope they’re right. The world is changing and the company is smart to shift with it. The inexorable march of time waits for no food.

Besides, that top tortilla always got soggy as hell anyway.


Steve Bramucci is on Twitter and Instagram.

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